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Re: Nests, robins, and toes

On Mon, 16 Dec 2002, John Argentati wrote:
> This morning I noticed three herons checking out the seven surviving nests
> here at Greenview Pond.
> Two were sitting on nests.  I also observed them carrying sticks to the
> nests and squabbling with each other.
> I've never seen herons building nests here in December.  Generally they get
> started in late January.

Hi C-birders,

DUring yesterday's Durham CBC, I too noticed some seemingly premature
nest-oriented activity. At the Glenn-Veazey historical site near the
landfill (sorry, not open to the public yet, though the ECWA is working
on it) a Carolina Chickadee was making repeated visits to a tree cavity
near the end of a large broken-off limb, apparently cleaning it out. And
along the back side of the beaver swamp behind the Super K-Mart, a Downy
Woodpecker that had been feeding nearby slipped into a tree hole in a snag
in the shallow water, then stuck its head out and chipped at me. These
could have just been roosting cavities, but the chickadee's active
cleaning/excavation seemed suspicious, as did the woodpecker's scolding.

On Mon, 16 Dec 2002, Craig Armstrong wrote:
> Has anyone else seen an unusually high amount of Robins in the
> Triangle area this fall?

Actually, I've seen less than in previous years. I can remember the Duke
Gardens being virtually swamped with hundreds, maybe thousands of them
coming in to roost in the evenings, which I haven't seen this year. But
maybe that was later in the winter... I've seen a few scattered groups,
but not the massive thundering herds of them that usually show up at some
point. I watch for really big groups like that; in Michigan, I and some
friends picked Townsend's Solitaires out of a couple of flocks like that,
and one in Massachusetts back when I was in high school had a Fieldfare
mixed in. Varied Thrush is also possible.

On Sun, 15 Dec 2002, Leah Campbell wrote:
> Do they actually have more dextrous toes than other birds? I have read
> that corvids are likely the most intelligent of all birds. Where do
> parids fit in?

Corvids might be the most intelligent *passerines*; among all birds, I
think they're probably second to parrots. Although even the dumbest corvid
has got to be smarter than those annoying cockatiels... Parids almost
certainly are near the top of the list. I've attended a research symposium
or two on the topic. Intelligence among birds (if not among all animals)
tends to be correlated with two behaviors: (1) manipulation of objects and
(2) storing food in "caches" and remembering where all of the caches are.
I don't know if any parrots use caches, but their ability to manipulate
objects with their feet, beaks, and tongues is second to no animal (except
maybe octopuses, also among the smartest of all animals, probably smarter
than dogs and cats!). As I understand it, it's not that the intelligence
arises and makes cache use and object manipulation possible, but rather
the cache use and object manipulation result in natural selection for
intelligence, which then gets turned to other purposes like imitating
sounds and collecting shiny objects... And parids not only use their feet
to manipulate food, they also store food in caches like corvids do. So
they must be pretty smart.

Good birding,


Joshua S. Rose
Duke University
Department of Biology (Zoology, R.I.P.)